IDS Teams Exceed Expectations

The TouchCare team is shown above with IDS board members and IDS founder Atam Dhawan, interim dean of the Albert Dorman Honors College. The board members and the college gave the team a stipend to further its research.

In the spring of 2011, Atam Dhawan founded the Interdisciplinary Design Studio (IDS), a program that gave honors students a chance to do independent research with an interesting twist.

IDS aimed to teach students, starting as freshmen, how to research new technologies but also how to create business plans that proved there was a market for such technologies. After four years in IDS, the students would be skilled enough to form their own start-ups companies through which to sell their technologies. Or upon graduation they could take corporate jobs, where their IDS training would help them become top managers and leaders.  It was a grand vision, but no one knew if IDS would succeed. 

Yet now, two years later, IDS has succeeded beyond even the wildest imaginings of its founder, Dhawan, a Distinguished Professor and Interim Dean of the Albert Dorman Honors College.The IDS teams have won local and state-wide entrepreneurial contests.They have received research money from major companies. They have submitted invention disclosures to NJIT and some have applied for provisional patents. And perhaps most importantly all of the teams have learned how to fuse research and innovation with business management and marketing.  

“What these students have accomplished in such a short time is nothing short of amazing,” said Dhawan. “I’m so proud of what they’ve done and I know that after they graduate they will improve the technological fabric of American society.”

IDS started with 20 students divided into five teams. It has grown to 64 students divided into 17 teams. Each team has a faculty adviser and an industry adviser who guide the students' research.

Dhawan also established an IDS External Advisory Board, chaired by Michael Smith, President and CEO of Smith is a strong IDS advocate; he recently, for instance, hosted an IDS Student Project Showcase at the Forbes Galleries in Manhattan. The advisory board is filled with many prominent business leaders who take a personal and professional interest in the IDS teams.

This week, the IDS teams presented their research to the External Advisory Board. Three board members were so impressed with the presentations that they, along with the Honors College, offered $20,000 stipends to two IDS teams: TouchCare, a four-member team that’s developing a painless needle that numbs a patient’s skin; and AutisMind, a four-member team that’s designing smart toys that interact with autistic children while analyzing their cognitive abilities.

The board members who gave the stipends are Brian Kiernan, a retired Senior Vice President at InterDigital who is now an angel investor: Manish Patel, President of The Think Cloud Inc.; and Nish Parikh, CEO of the Web Team Corporation. The stipends will allow the two teams to spend the summer researching their devices at on-campus IDS studios.

Having that freedom will allow the teams to focus on their projects.

"I think it's great that we have the funding to turn our theory into reality over the summer," said Isaac Daudelin, a member of the TouchCare team that's developing a painless needle. "It is hard to find between classes and studying during the school semester to focus on the research that our project requires. But now we have the whole summer to focus our efforts on reaching the point where we can show proof of concept of our idea. It is really exciting to be a part of this IDS program."

Amira Esseghir, a member of AutisMind, agrees with Daudelin.

"Our team is extremely grateful and we feel honored to have been awarded the IDS Summer 2013 stipend," says Esseghir. "This award is critical to sustaining prototype and curriculum development to combat cognitive and social deficiencies in children with autism. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to our sponsors and our advisors, especially Dr. Atam Dhawan, for their continuous support. None of the AutisMind team's success would have been possible without them."

By Robert Florida